During the past six months, the University of San Diego Varsity Weight Room has experienced a modest remodeling. Equipment and power racks were moved in order to clear out a space on one side of the room. This space was then filled with 12’x 42’ of carpet bonded foam tumbling mats. A new warm-up was then introduced to USD student-athletes.
With real estate at such a premium in weight rooms, why did we go to the trouble of moving so much equipment only to fill it with a tumbling mat? Because we believe tumbling is that important to the development of athleticism in our athletes. Strength coaches only get a few hours each week with student-athletes, so we need to make the most of every minute by using exercises or activities that train many athletic attributes effectively. Tumbling definitely fits the bill.
Of the 10 General Physical Skills described by Jim Cawley of Dynamax and used by CrossFit, tumbling enhances at least six: Strength, Flexibility, Coordination, Agility, Balance and Accuracy.
Tumbling works all of your muscles from every angle. It makes your core and limbs “connected” and makes you “sport strong.”
Tumbling is a great form of dynamic mobility. That is, you move your joints (shoulders, hips, knees, ankles, wrists and elbows) through a full range of motion as you tumble. This is essential for injury prevention and peak performance.
Regular tumbling practice enables you to use all of your body parts together in precise movements. Your muscles learn to work together to move your body efficiently. That is coordination. And this coordination will transfer to other activities, thereby making the skills of your sport easier to learn.
The essence of sports is controlling one’s body through space, through all levels (ie: from lying on the ground to as high in the air as you can leap) in a quick, efficient manner. With tumbling practice, you become much better at controlling your body, changing direction quickly, recovering from a bad position and staying in balance. All of this adds up to a more agile athlete.
All of the rolls, cartwheels and other dynamic movements of tumbling force an athlete to “feel” their center of gravity and keep it aligned with their supportive base. This is the essence of balance and it is a vital sports skill.
I call this skill “fluidity.” As an athlete gets better at tumbling, his or her athletic (sports) movements become “smoother” or more coordinated. Basically, the athlete has more body control and is more precise in movement.
Tumbling is also a fantastic warmup. It causes you to sweat, increases circulation and loosens up all the muscles and joints. Five minutes of tumbling gets our athletes ready to go.
Finally, tumbling is an essential tool we use for injury prevention. It teaches athletes how to fall and how to exit a bad position. Tumbling also works all the joints in the body through a large range of motion, making these joints more supple and injury-resistant.
I learned to tumble as a kid in gymnastics class. I was re-introduced to tumbling by Ethan Reeve. He was the head strength coach at Ohio University (now he runs the show at Wake Forest) while I was a graduate student there. Coach Reeve gave me my first real exposure to the world of strength and conditioning. He is an incredible coach and much of what we do here at USD is credited to him. That includes tumbling. I worked out in Coach Reeve’s weight room for a semester with a GA. Every time, we warmed up with tumbling. I definitely noticed all of the skills mentioned above being developed. I have never forgotten this lesson.
I promised myself if I ever had my own weight room, I would make room for tumbling. Ten years after leaving Ohio, I got my chance and I kept that promise. Today, the student-athletes at USD are using the exact same tumbling routine Coach Reeve put me through at Ohio U (see table below). They will soon be reaping the rewards.
Try this routine and see how it improves your athleticism. Not bad for a five-minute warm-up!
COACH REEVE’S TUMBLING ROUTINE
1. Forward Rolls X 3
2. Backward Rolls X 3
3. Dive Rolls X 3
4. Quick Rolls (3 successive rolls as fast as possible) X 3
5. Backward Split Roll X 3
6. Forward Roll To Bear Crawl
7. Backward Roll To Crab Crawl
8. Cartwheel-Forward Roll-Cartwheel
9. High Knees (running drill, length of mat)
10. Butt Kicks (running drill, length of mat)
11. Seat Rolls To Carioca
12. Seat Rolls to Shuffle (same as above but with side shuffle)
13. One Legged Hops (get up high and far, length of mat)
14. Two Legged Hops (get up high and far, length of mat)
15. Backpedal (backwards run, reaching back)
16. Wheelbarrow (partner holding feet or practice walking on hands if alone)